Sunday, January 26, 2020

Courage Nets Captives: Pvt. Richard Smith, 95th New York Infantry

Some of the accounts that I've located about prisoners of war taken during the Petersburg Campaign are simply amazing feats of bravery. Take for instance the case of Pvt. Richard Smith of the 95th New York Infantry. Smith received the Medal of Honor for his courage at the Battle of Globe Tavern, fought along the Weldon (Petersburg Railroad) south of the Cockade City from August 18-21, 1864.

On the battle's final day the Confederates with an ad hoc division led by Gen. William Mahone tried to hit the Union left flank which was dug in along the railroad. Mahone's assault failed and resulted in heavy casualties. During their withdrawal, numerous Southerners became captives.

Col. J. W. Hoffman, commanding the brigade that included the 95th New York, mentioned Smith in an official report recommending him for the Medal of Honor three months after the battle. It reads:

Headquarters 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 5th Army Corps
November 25, 1864
To Brigadier General L. Thomas, Adjutant General, United States Army:
General: I have the honor to report that a medal of honor be awarded to Private Richard Smith, Company B, 95th Regiment, New York Volunteers, a mounted orderly at these headquarters, for distinguished gallantry in the action of August 21, 1864, on the Weldon Railroad, Virginia

When the enemy, after having charged on the left flank of the division, turned to retreat, Private Smith rode out alone, and, riding around a body of the enemy, ordered them to face about and follow him. His courage on this occasion so intimidated them that he brought within our lines as prisoners, two commissioned officers and twenty men. For this gallantry Private Smith was mentioned in my official report of the action on the Weldon Railroad, to which I have the honor to refer you. 

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. W. Hoffman, Colonel Commanding Brigade

Smith appears in the 1860 census as a 20 year old "brick laborer," who lived with "brick manufacturer" Joseph Barns, his family and about 15 other brick workers in Haverstraw, Rockland County, New York. Rockland County is on the west bank of the Hudson River just north of New York City. Pvt. Smith enlisted in the 95th New York in November 1861.

Smith survived the war, as I located him in the 1870 census, still living in Haverstraw, and still working in a brick yard. At that time Smith lived in the household of Nelson Jones and his family. Find A Grave shares that Smith lived until 1918, and was buried in Mount Repose Cemetery in Haverstraw.

Smith's official citation simply (and incompletely) reads: "Captured two officers and 20 men of Hagood's brigade while they were endeavoring to make their way back through the woods." 

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